Charlotte is becoming more of a “soccer city” that one day could very well land a major league team.
That was one of the messages Tuesday from Bob Morgan, CEO of the Charlotte Chamber, who spoke at a Charlotte Rotary Club luncheon uptown. Soccer, Morgan said, is one of the ways Charlotte leaders are trying to build up the city’s cultural appeal.
“Soccer will help us attract more young people (and) it will allow us to attract ... those who were born outside of the United States,” Morgan said. “Soccer is but one example of part of a broader culture, one of a city and a region that is forward-thinking, and that is and will continue to attract companies and people.”
Morgan cited Saturday’s friendly matchup between Bayern Munich and Inter Milan as an example of the appetite for pro soccer here. The game attracted 50,177 fans, according to Scott Paul, executive director of stadium operations at Bank of America Stadium. That’s about two-thirds of the stadium’s capacity of 75,419.
To keep generating interest in the sport, Morgan said, leaders must work to keep drawing in similar international pro matchups.
“Soccer is big business, and the exposure of events like that and other matches that have been held like that in previous summers are helping to put Charlotte on the map,” Morgan said.
He also noted how Forbes recently ranked the Carolina Panthers the No. 40 most valuable sports franchise in the world. Bayern Munich, one of the other teams that played in Charlotte last weekend, on the other hand, ranked No. 12.
“We aspire to be home to an MLS franchise,” Morgan said. To do that, Morgan said, Charlotte has to work to build adequate facilities, adding that efforts like the $24.8 million renovation of Memorial Stadium are part of that. Charlotte’s currently home to the Charlotte Independence, which is part of the United Soccer League and affiliated with the MLS team the Colorado Rapids.
Another thing the city needs to attract a pro team is youth programming to grow interest in the sport, Morgan said. Efforts are already underway to that effect: This past spring, FC Barcelona said it’s opening a soccer school in Charlotte, the club’s second in the U.S. after Miami.
The MLS is “still trying to find its footing” as a business model, meaning it’s successful in some markets, and less so in others, added Morgan. He cited Nashville as a more difficult market.
“Some of us believe soccer’s ultimate success is inevitable. Why wouldn’t we want Charlotte to be in the game?” he said.